The Alberta government and Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis have launched online 50/50 draws to support junior hockey in the province.
The Jackpots for Junior Hockey initiative started on Monday and will run each weekend in March.
The proceeds from the 50/50 draws will be shared between Alberta’s five Western Hockey League teams and 15 Alberta Junior Hockey League teams.
The 50/50 money is meant to help offset revenue lost by the leagues and teams amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Both leagues depend largely on ticket sales and sponsorship to stay afloat.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put our 20 junior hockey teams in Alberta at risk of not being able to continue to operate,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said Monday morning. “With COVID-19 restrictions preventing fans from attending our games, our teams are simply not viable.
“When you consider that we’re a fan-dependent league with over 90 per cent of the revenues coming from ticket sales and local sponsorship, you can understand where all of the expenses now are borne by the ownership of those teams. Many are in difficult positions to begin with and when you add this on top of it, it’s a very difficult position to recover from.
“The Jackpots for Junior Hockey 50/50 will help to ensure our junior hockey teams remain a vital part of our Alberta communities.”
Ryan Bartoshyk, commissioner of the AJHL, said the 50/50 initiative will allow junior hockey teams in the province to remain in their communities.
“Without financial support, communities are at risk of losing their teams. Ensuring that these teams remain viable is not only a vital stimulus for the Alberta economy, but it also helps our communities cope from a physical and mental well-being standpoint.”
Together, the 20 junior hockey teams in Alberta typically contribute about $100 million annually to Alberta’s economy.
Monday’s announcement was made outside Grant Fuhr Arena, home of the Spruce Grove Saints. Dan Leckelt, governor of the Saints, said the funds generated through the 50/50 will be allocated towards maintaining operations through the pandemic.
“It gives our Alberta-based teams the ability to sustain top levels of junior hockey in the province,” Leckelt said.
“Most teams, depending on the community, are strained for sure. And it has a lot to do with economic impacts they’ve experienced over the last five years, even prior to COVID. They’ve left a lot of community-based teams in difficult positions. Doing our best to keep everybody employed, that’s been our motto and trying to do our best to represent businesses that support us, that’s been our mantra as well.”
WHL and AJHL attendance for regular season games typically average more than one million fans per year. The leagues employ about 1,500 full- and part-time employees.
On Jan. 28, the WHL was granted approval by the Alberta government to return to play. The WHL’s Alberta-based teams are set to open their season this Friday.
On Feb. 19, the AJHL received approval from the government of Alberta to restart the 2020-21 season under strict health protocols. Training camp is scheduled to begin in March.
“It’s very significant work that they’re all doing in order to stay in bubbles and stay safe,” Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Sharon Aheer said.
“There’s a ton of work that goes into making sure that those cohorts are playing together, they’re not allowed to leave their bubbles, they have to stay committed to only being in that play. There’s a lot that goes into making sure that those junior hockey teams can actually play.”
Albertans across the province will be able to buy their tickets online.
The draws will take place every weekend in March, opening each Friday at 9 a.m. and closing each Sunday at 9 p.m.
The tickets can be purchased through the AJHL and WHL websites. The first draw will open on Friday, March 5.
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